Reflections on Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection

Reflections on Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection

A couple of years ago, Sarah and I spent a long weekend in Washington, DC. She lived there for several years during and after college, and I always enjoyed visiting the city. Returning to the nation’s capital was a real treat, since a number of new attractions opened since my last visit. While we intended to hit many of them, we instead visited the National Museum of the American Indian several times. 

In the gift shop, I came upon a graphic story collection Native American tales, Trickster: Native American Tales. Leafing through it evoked memories of my own childhood, memories of beauty, memories of sunshine filled days, and memories of a gentle man, Larry of the Klickitat Indian tribe, who lifted me upon his shoulders carrying me about and speaking to me, telling me stories. He gave me beautiful memories of a singing, sparkling river, of dry pine covered mountains, of compassion, and love—all memories I hold sacred.

My family moved into the Klickitat Valley, a rag-tag white family from the Midwest who knew nothing about the culture and life of living in a tiny lumber community we came to call home for two years of my childhood.

We lived outside the town of Klickitat very near an Indian compound. We were poor, although I was young and never thought of my family as needy. When paychecks arrived in my family, they were spent on good times that lasted until the money was gone—usually about a festive day and night.

Poverty wasn’t something I knew. My mother always had delicious bean soup simmering and in the summer fresh vegetables from her garden. Larry and his friends came to eat with us, bringing fresh salmon and steelhead. Our meals seemed like feasts beyond belief. Nothing compares to fresh fish and fine friends who share their lives and their bounty.

It wasn’t until many years later that I learned how unusual our family’s friendship with Larry was. This was in 1950 when overt bigotry was the norm and segregation was common in many places. 

Larry gave me other fine gifts: wonderment, love and awe for a culture that gave me affection and joy.

During my grade school years, native myths and tales or what masqueraded as the real deal, became part of my classroom reading program. I kept silent about my thoughts. Inside, well not so much. The stories rang hollow and shallow, never seeming quite right.

All these years later, when I happened upon Trickster, it touched me deeply. The art embellished the words like a lovely frame around a profound work of art.

Matt Dembicki, its editor, gained key support from Native American storytellers and artists. He didn’t want to tilt the stories in favor of popular culture for contemporary consumption. The sharp contrast between the publication of Trickster and the too often stereotypical view of American Indian literature in school texts and many, many novels and films is decisive and clear. And I was unsurprised to learn that Dembicki did not change or edit a story without the storyteller’s approval.

The point wasn’t to westernize the stories for general consumption, but rather to provide an opportunity to experience authentic Native American stories, even if it sometimes meant clashing with western vernacular. 

Authenticity is key to Trickster and Demicki offers his heartfelt reason for gathering together a collection of stories and pairing them with Native American style illustrations. 

I hope this book serves as a bridge for readers to learn about the original people of this land, to foster a greater appreciation and understanding among all inhabitants. 

All sorts of creatures and entities sparkle across the pages teaching lessons, values and myths. Each tale offers situations with cultural icons unique to various tribes. Each one made me smile, sometimes for its humor but more often for its clever story and wonderful illustrations.

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